Forgotten photos, rediscovered: White Birch on Sucker Creek

Some years ago, I bought an odd collection of items at a garage sale, including some Russian pins, a Masonic Bible, and a stack of about 20 black and white photos. I didn’t know the people in the photos, but they were very interesting and I kind of got the feeling that it would be a shame to just leave them there, as they were probably bound for the trash can if they didn’t sell. I think I ended up paying $2 for the photos (and just a bit more for the other aforementioned items.)

The pictures ended up sitting in the drawer of my computer desk for years and I always hoped that I might ultimately do something cool with them, but I couldn’t seem to come up with many worthwhile ideas. After all, they were vacation photos of people who I didn’t know and I didn’t have much insight into their origins. However, I got some fresh inspiration when I revisited a collection of slides that included the missile silo hatch photo featured in another blog post. The response I got to that particular post via social media mortivated me to give my small batch of garage sale pics another look. My initial idea was to try and ascertain when the black and white pics were originally taken, but there are really no clues anywhere on the photos – no date stamps or anything like that. There are, however, a few handwritten notes on the back of the photos with captions like “Along the West Branch River” and “The log jam on Sucker Creek.” After a bit of research, I ultimately determine that the photos were taken in central Michigan. I still couldn’t figure out the exact date of the pictures, though, and the best I could figure is that they were from the mid 1960s. I had, of course, hoped to determine something more specific.

In reading a bit more online about the history of photo paper and the like, I actually stumbled upon something even more fascinating: An endeavor called Algorithmia has created a free service that colorizes black and white photos by utilizing deep learning models. I was intrigued, so I scanned a photo from my garage sale batch for a test run. On the back of the picture was the handwritten caption “White birch on Sucker Creek.” The results – rendered in less than one minute – were breathtaking. Indeed, after holding on to these photos for years, I was finally able to look at one of them in a whole different light, ostensibly seeing the very the scene that the now anonymous original photographer saw somewhere around 50 years ago.

“White birch on Sucker Creek”
(date and photographer unknown)
Original black and white photo.


“White birch on Sucker Creek”
Colorized version via Algorithmia

I’ll be sharing additional colorized photos from this batch (and other sources) in the near future.

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Forgotten photos: Unidentified stationary object

NOTE: After I shared this via social media, some intrepid friends launched their own investigations and came up with a plausible conclusion. I have added their suggestions at the end of this article.

* * *

As I previously mentioned in my post about the Mitchell Corn Palace, I’m slowly working my way through a few batches of 35mm slides that I have acquired at thrift stores and other outlets over the years. Here’s another one, and it’s a bit of a head-scratcher:

Setting and subject unknown, Jan. 1980
Click on the picture for a larger image.

This slide is dated January 1980 and the scene seems like something out of an episode of the old show In Search of…  It is somewhat difficult to figure out the approximate dimensions of the main object. In some respects, it looks like a vent or skylight for an underground chamber. Rather than giving away any clues to the location of this scene, the forest and hills in the background add a bit to the mystery of it all.

I have tried a few times to identify the scene or location shown in the photo and I have yet to come up with any clues.

At this point, I welcome any suggestions as to what the image depicts. If your info checks out, I’ll give you credit here on the site.

The image above was produced using a Wolverine F2D-8 slide & negative scanner.

UPDATE (March 12, 2017): My friend Fowaz noted that the photo above looks a lot like a hatch for a missile silo, sharing a number of images for comparison [Image 1 | Image 2 |  Image 3]. Another friend — who served in the Air Force until retirement — agreed, adding that the hatch might have been for a Titan missile silo.

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The Unseen Red Army, part one

The images below are from a small treasure trove of photos I recently obtained from a seller in Lithuania. They offer candid and hitherto unpublished glimpses into the lives of Red Army soldiers from the time of the Great Patriotic War and immediately after.

Many of the pictures in this collection include handwritten inscriptions on the backs of the photos. These inscriptions – where legible – were translated by our friend Grover Furr.

The word on the banner in the chalkboard sketch is “спорт,” or “sport,” which might be related to the boxing gloves that are worn by the mouse.

red army photo

1945 found / situated
in Xol’sus (first letter unclear)

red army photo

Little northern town
In bushes near Konm.
table (?). with service friends. Viktor
Yaukus Vasil’evskaya.

red army photo

Little northern town
“Commutator” N. image
with Viktor.


We’ll post more photos from this collection in the near future.

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Mother Teresa at the grave of Enver Hoxha

Every so often, I get a weird idea and can’t get it out of my head until I arrive on a proper resolution. A fine example of this was the time I watched the Christopher Hitchens’ 1994 quasi-documentary Hell’s Angel. Based on Hitchens’ 1995 book The Missionary Position: Mother Teresa in Theory and Practice, the short film is, at its core, a bile-filled rant about the life of the Albanian woman who would (eventually) be canonized for her work with the sick and poor in Calcutta, India

Christopher Hitchens

In what is arguably the zenith of Hitchens’ on-screen dissection of the legacy of Mother Teresa, the late essayist (himself an avowed atheist) recalled his subject’s controversial 1991 visit to the land of her birth, which included a surprising visit to the grave of Enver Hoxha. Hitchens goes on to trash Hoxha, referring to him as “Stalinist murder and despot.”

“Mother Teresa admires the strength of the powerful almost as highly as she recommends the resignation of the poor,” Hitchens said in Hell’s Angel. “When she visited her motherland of Albania, she appeared to take seriously St. Paul’s notorious assertion that ‘the powers that be are ordained of God.’ The Albanian authorities had obtained the world’s first officially atheist state. They had persecuted all forms of worship, except that of their leader, Enver Hoxha.”

Hitchens’ assertions on Hoxha’s Albania – a fast-moving combination of overgeneralization and inaccuracy – fade quickly into the mix as he moves to the next stage of his critique of Mother Teresa, a discussion of her relationship with Pope John II. Of course, John Paul II was himself the veritable antithesis of Enver Hoxha, not by virtue of his spirituality but because of his overt efforts to undermine and destabilize communist societies during his reign as pontiff. It’s a glaring contradiction, to be sure; mounting an attack on one person for paying respect to the architect of an atheist state while heaping further enmity on the same individual for her relationship with one of the best-known spiritual leaders of her day. But it fits together in Christopher Hitchens’ overarching narrative, which holds that every aspect of Mother Teresa’s existence must be subjected to extreme hostility and contempt. She had some unfortunate positions and associations, indeed. But Hitchens’ unbalanced critiques – which denied even the possibility that she had accomplished anything noteworthy or positive in her lifetime (much like his hit and run comments about Hoxha) – were always driven by his highly selective and decidedly personal agenda.

Although he was undeniably a talented writer and entertaining speaker, Christopher Hitchens lost credibility in my mind when he openly supported the administration of George W. Bush beginning in 2002. In fact, as Bush wrapped up his second term, Hitchens still held Bush in high regard and stated he had “no regrets” for publicly supporting Bush’s reelection. Around the same time, Hitchens renewed his attacks on Mother Teresa, denouncing her as “a fanatic, a fundamentalist, and a fraud.” It is something of a glaring contradiction in and of itself that Hitchens could roundly condemn the likes of Hoxha and Mother Teresa and then subsequently take up the  mantle for Bush, who once nonchalantly acknowledged that his decision to wage war against the people of Iraq had resulted in the deaths of an estimated 30,000 civilians in just two years’ time. (Subsequent and more comprehensive estimates of civilian deaths in Iraq place the final figure much higher, ranging between 112,000 and 124,000.)

Still frame from Hell’s Angel

Hitchens’ simultaneous haranguing of Enver Hoxha and Mother Teresa ultimately led me to see both individuals in a different light. There’s some yin and yang there, to be sure. Mother Teresa likely has more adulators than detractors, and vice versa for Mr. Hoxha. And while there are likely a lot of folks who revile them both, the amount of people who hold them both in high regard is probably pretty slight. Still, I think it’s not entirely impossible to effectively reconcile them as being worthy of respect at some level, although I know many people would not agree with me on this point.

After a bit of reflection, I decided that I wanted a picture to more or less commemorate such an unusual point in time. It would confuse some people, for sure. But I felt like it was a poignant enough scene that, if I took it in on a regular basis, it might lead to some introspection and even a compelling conversation or two.

So the quest began, but I quickly came up empty in my search. I couldn’t find a high resolution still image online and a still frame from the Hitchens show wouldn’t be of suitable quality to print. I was sure that there would be a black and white photo of the scene in The Missionary Position, but I checked with a friend who said that it wasn’t in there – which is kind of surprising, given the Hitchens’ emphasis of the event in Hell’s Angel. So, I more or less figured that my quest was at an end unless I could find an artist willing to produce a rendering for me.

Then, shortly after the 2016 election, I saw a funny illustration online depicting a throw down between Joseph Stalin and the president-elect himself. A friend had shared it on Facebook but nobody really seemed to know the origin of the cartoon. A reverse image search via Google led me to the personal blog of artist Brett Marcus Cook who told me the picture was an original that he did on the fly, but he was kind enough to whip up a new one for a modest fee.

Image by Brett Marcus Cook, 2017.

I then asked Mr. Cook about drawing the image of Mother Teresa at Hoxha’s grave and he agreed to give it a shot. I had a few specifications in mind for the scene, and I shared them in an e-mail:

  • The grave should be clearly marked with Enver Hoxha’s name. I think the small Albanian flag on the slab is important, too.
  • The scene should depict only Mother Teresa, the grave, and the lowers (none of the background folks).
  • The imagery should not be overtly hostile or insulting to either Mother Teresa or Enver Hoxha.
  • The background can be relatively uncomplicated (like just a solid color)

After a couple of days, Mr. Cook shared with me his commissioned depiction of the scene, perfectly capturing my the vision that I had laid out over the course of our correspondence. And as happy as I was with the scan that he sent via e-mail, the hard copy that I received in the mail later in the week was even more impressive.

“Mother Teresa at the Grave of Enver Hoxha.”
Image by Brett Marcus Cook, 2017.

My original plan was to place the drawing in an ornate frame, adding another level of intrigue to the notion that anyone would commemorate such an unusual moment in time as the sight of such a revered figure in the Catholic faith visiting the tomb of a notorious communist. But in the end, I thought it would be best to go with a simple black mat and frame, complimenting the solemnity of Mr. Cook’s rendering.

The picture now hangs on the wall of my office at work, marking a fleeting moment of communion between two people who, in my opinion, have been regrettably misunderstood by so many of their fellow human beings.

Further Reading:
Enver Hoxha on the Revolutionary and Reactionary Potential of Religion   The Espresso Stalinist
Nexhmije Hoxha on questions of crime and punishment
The Struggle Against Religion in Socialist Albania and the Closure of Its Religious Institutions in 1966-67   Alliance-ML

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